China buys Weetabix majority stake

China has gobbled up a majority stake in Weetabix. China's state-owned Bright Food announced on Thursday that it had bought a 60% stake in the 80-year-old breakfast cereal.

The deal values Weetabix, which is produced in the small town of Burton Latimer, near Kettering, Northamptonshire, at £1.2bn.

Zongnan Wang, chairman of Bright Food, said he was "excited" about bringing Weetabix to breakfast tables across China and Asia, where western eating habits are slowly catching on as wealthier citizens begin to shun traditional rice and steamed bread.

"We are excited by the many growth opportunities for the business, especially in international markets, and Asia in particular. With Bright Food's strong resources and our expertise in both the Chinese and broader international markets, we are excellently placed to develop the Weetabix business," Wang said.

Despite Weetabix being derided by a head chef at the Savoy as "cakes that you give to dogs", Weetabix's chief executive, Giles Turrell, said he believed there were "substantial opportunities to further grow the business internationally, in North America, Asia and beyond".

Lyndon Lea, a partner at Lion Capital, said: "We are excited to continue our journey with the Weetabix brand, which has been an enormously successful investment, as we extend the business into China in partnership with Bright Food."

The nation's favourite breakfast cereal, which accounts for 7% of UK cereal sales, was family owned until 2004, when it was bought by a Texas private equity firm. It was later sold to another private equity firm, Lion Capital, which will retain a 40% stake in the company, which also owns Alpen and Ready brek.

Weetabix is exported to more than 80 countries, employs nearly 2,000 people and generates annual sales of more than £420m. Britons are still its biggest fans eating an average of 336 Weetabix a year each.

The cereal is the latest in a long line of western food groups that have fallen prey to the Chinese. Last year Bright Food bought a 75% stake in Australia's Manassen Food for more than $500m and its dairy business bought a 51% stake in New Zealand diary Synlait.

Bright Food had also tried to buy stakes in United Biscuits, which makes Jaffa Cakes and Hula Hoops, and French yoghurt group Yoplait.

The deal comes as a Chinese retailer sealed the acquisition of Savile Row tailor Gieves & Hawkes from another Chinese firm.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2012

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